Blog Directory CineVerse: Sex, truth and videotape

Sex, truth and videotape

Thursday, January 19, 2017

In his directorial debut, Steven Soderbergh hits one out of the park with" Sex, Lies and Videotape," a brooding reflection on relationships, secrets, and insecurities that still packs a wallop in 2017. Much food for thought was generated last evening during our dissection of said motion picture. Here are the highlights:

There is hardly any nudity or graphically adult content, there’s not much plot, and the film moves slowly and subtly; instead, this is a film mostly about words and people talking, primarily about sex.
o In this way and others, this is a bold and groundbreaking motion picture that explores places previous movies depicting and about sex avoid. Criterion Collection essayist Michael Dare called the film “brave,” “especially when you compare its sexual values against any other American movie. In most films, the characters have lives around which their sex lives revolve. But in sex, lies and videotape, the characters have sex lives around which the rest of their lives revolve. It’s much closer to reality than most of us would like to admit.”
Regardless of past roles or professions, the four main actors cast in this film acquit themselves very nicely – James Spader and Andy McDowell in particular won wide critical acclaim; the former typically played small side characters or villains in 80s fare, while the latter was known for being a pretty face model.
For being an “idea” movie heavy on thematic content, and despite being built around the premise that sex deserves to be talked about, all this talk does little to clear up the mystery that revolves around sexuality, sexual attraction, eroticism, and perversity. Arguably, the film raises more questions than it answers.
Some critics found the ending to be predictable and slightly moralistic – with the cheating husband getting his comeuppance the sisters mending fences, and Graham getting the camera turned on himself. In a movie that can defy your expectations and which starts out unpredictably, a case can be made that it concludes as one would expect.
There is no main character or hero. Dare further wrote: “Graham, Ann, John, and Cynthia, the four main characters, have got so many hang-ups that the film basically has no protagonist. There’s not a single character whose struggle we can endorse whole-heartedly. Are we really expected to identify with the woman who can’t have an orgasm, or her sleazy husband who has nothing but? Are we supposed to identify with the barmaid who is secretly undermining her sister’s marriage, or the guy who is only impotent in front of other people? Though these individuals are all fascinating, none of them are particularly appealing. We’re left with nothing to empathize with but the single thread they share in common, that life is a whirlpool of compromises, full of pain and unique surprises. You can walk out of this film feeling a little bit better about yourself; after all, if these people can work out their problems, your problems should be a snap.”
The film features crossover narratives, as well as visuals and audio, that overlap. Blogger Jason Fraley suggested: “…it’s normal for Ann’s therapist session to become the voice-over for images of John and Cynthia’s sexcapades. This approach also allows for economic transitions, like the sound of a doorbell before the bell-ringer even arrives on the front porch, as well as clever jumpcuts, like Cynthia asking a question to John, then cutting to Graham answering the same question from Ann.” In another example, we see Cynthia engaged in hanky-panky with John while concurrently hearing the voice of Ann say, “Can I tell you something personal?”
Consider that this film has a distinctive relevance that resonates today in the multimedia era where so much of our lives is captured by and reflected via video. A character like Graham, who believes he can more effectively relate to the opposite sex using video is one that perhaps many of us can understand or empathize with more today.
Graham and Ann are honest, truthful, introspective and introverted, and more excited by foreplay and the thrill of the chase versus Cynthia and John who are dishonest, socially extroverted, and more excited by the actual act of sex.
Ann and Cynthia, of course, our sisters, but they share very little in terms of values or character traits. Arguably, the only thing they have in common is John.
John and Graham are both interested in women but sexually attracted under different circumstances – one by sex and the other by talking about sex.
Graham and Anna are at first contrasted in their wardrobe colors, with the former wearing black shirts and blue jeans and the latter donning white/lighter clothing; as the movie progresses, however, she comes around to wearing black tops and blue jeans, suggesting that she has an affinity and empathy for Graham.
Voyeurism and our inherent human curiosity in watching and eavesdropping on people doing and saying private things.
Honesty versus dishonesty; truth versus lies; documenting (in the form of taping, which doesn’t lie) versus talking (which can be filled with lies).
Arguably, the most erotic and erogenous organ is the brain. As Roger Ebert put it, “the argument in sex, lies a videotape is that conversation is also better than sex – more intimate, more voluptuous – and that with our minds we can do things to each other that makes sex… More troublesome. There are moments when it reminds us how sexy the movies used to be, back in the days when speech was and erogenous zone.”
This movie could be suggesting that film is an art form that needs to have a mutual, reflexive relationship with the viewer. Assume that Graham is a surrogate for the director/filmmaker; Graham is more comfortable remaining behind the camera, but he doesn’t get “out of his rut” and grow/progress as a person until he steps in front of the camera and becomes part of the very process that he has been trying to control/document. The message here could be that the artist/filmmaker needs to be in tune and connect with his subject/audience, and that for art to progress and have relevance and truth, there has to be a stronger connection made between the art and its subject – or, in this case, the filmmaker and his audience.
The suggestive imagery of characters walking in and out of doorways or standing in doorways/thresholds, which insinuates the act of sexual penetration.
Potted plants insinuating either a growing weed of infidelity and lies or a healthy, vibrant, blossoming libido that hangs over the couple’s bed and relationship. Consider that Cynthia and her home are associated with plants and floral imagery.
Hannah and her Sisters
Rear Window
American Beauty
Films about kinky sex like Eyes Wide Shut, Secretary, Crash, and Nymphomaniac

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